Freshly Squeezed – Collaborative theatre that examines collaboration. (Theatre review)

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Freshly Squeezed

PACT Gallery – find out more here.

Unfortunately I’ve had a very busy February, and where I intended to write-up Freshly Squeezed the night I attended, I missed out and therefore this marvellous show that only ran for two nights, is now gone from the PACT theatre and I will just have to inform you of what was missed. Freshly Squeezed is an annual event at the PACT, but it definitely needs to be longer, as I am genuinely sorry people will miss out on the great opportunity of attending. Curated by Katy Green Loughrey, this years event was an audience collaborative experience… yes yes I know… but it was thrilling, particularly given there were several events that gave the audience a chance to ‘warm up’ to the fact of their participation. I know the general response to ‘audience participation’ is “Holy Christ! Don’t pick me!” but Freshly Squeezed took participation to an entirely different level, in some ways reminiscent of that 1960’s “anti-play,” but in others it seemed more like an attendance at a midnight screening of The Room or Rocky Horror Picture Show. Trust me when I tell you, you haven’t been “collaborated” like this before, and to be honest, it changed my attitude to the entire experience.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a “nurse” who instantly set me up for medical processing, where I found to be “unwell” enough to need a band around my wrist and a small ticket. I sat in the foyer waiting, reading, and watching the astounded faces of theatre arrivals being “greeted” as I was. eventually was let through the gorgeous double doors at the PACT.

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Inside the room was dark, black in fact. Folk in white dressed as nurses wandered about flicking on lamps that hovered over small tables that held a variety of audio equipment and headphones. I moved through as many as time would allow, because I’d already seen from the program notes that the sounds were a combination of impressions from historian Emma Dortins and musician Laura Altman, of whom I am already a great fan. The players were from various points of listening to a recorded history such as sony disc walkmans, macbooks, ipods, tape players, etc. The recorded sounds are mostly conversations on various relevant topics, such as a conversation about how dance and mathematics meet each other through the exciting concept that abstract stimulus created in our heads has nothing (or everything) to do with the real world. Another track is of clapping, another of people discussing what a ‘direct experience’ may be. Even as we walk around and hear the sounds through the headphones, our present is being turned into a history. To emphasise this point, a tape recorder sits in the corner of the room, recording the sounds it picks up as we walk around it, ‘making’ history as history makes us. At the back of the room, controlled laptops fill the room with the discordant sounds of that history being made.

After this piece, we sat in the dark listening to the nothing of it, as more nurses approached, read our wrist bands and declared us either too sick to remain, or well. I was one of the too sick to remain, so I’m not sure what happened to the well folk. I was ushered into the foyer again, sitting on a chair, until a blindfold was placed around my head and I was left with the experience of being “blind.” Soon I heard the doors being pulled back, and suddenly a warm, soft hand and gentle female voice asked me if I was ok. When I answered in the affirmative, she told me that we were moving back into the main room and that she would guide me. I had to trust the warmth of the person appointed to care for me. It was an unnerving experience, but like everything at the PACT that night, the more I gave in, the better my experience was.

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I was told to remove my blindfold, and there in front of me was my carer. We exchanged awkward pleasantries and assimilated into the room after existing almost completely in each others world (at least for me) for a short time. The next activity combined work from Rhiannon Newton and Justin Koonin, a dancer and a mathematician, who discovered after a brief chat, that their disciplines had a great deal in common. Through a series of convoluted moves, aided by mini instructions handed out to each audience member on bits of paper, we become involved in mirroring excercises and rotation excercises that got more and more complex as we moved through them. I was fortunate enough to sit through the second half of this activity and got the rather splendid view of the audience rotating and mirroring on a giant axis, a feat that worked far better than one would expect.

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Finally, we carried our chairs back into audience formation, only to have three stools brought forward, each sporting a laptop which, after the audience were invited to answer skype calls, were soon full screen talking heads. The gimic was to play out the final scene of When Harry Met Sally, (extreml funny when the actors are on skype and the audience has to move their chairs about etc) but the result is a unified project bringing people together in collaboration. I have a personal fascination with this, as work often seems underestimated in its ability to contextualise friendship and bring folk into communication and collaboration when they would never connect socially.

Collaborative theatre experience can often make one feel like a child, not only through the dread and awkwardness the very idea inspires, but also through the complexities of following directions and juggling the weight and expectation of personal involvement. However, this is exemplified in combining disciplines that would never normally co-exist, in this case, dance/mathematics, musician/historian, performance artist/speech pathologist, live art duo/social entrepreneurial researcher. If the audience feels awkward, so have the performers, who have had to step out in order to connect with their partner. This idea shines through (particularly in the dance/mathematics exercise) and unites in its own collaborative understanding. When I left the theatre, I was struck with the thought, perhaps we don’t need to understand each other as well as we thought? Perhaps there is more hope in the notion that we just need to work together on a common project with a mutually desired result, and all the complexities of proximity, culture and our fear of the other melt away in the precise and perfect moment.

This night is highly recommended if you get the opportunity to attend in the future. Transformative.

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